By:  Garland Davis

I was five years old when I first met John.

In 1949, my dad bought a ninety-acre farm north of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  The house consisted of a living room, kitchen, a large bedroom downstairs and a huge unfinished attic above.  We moved into the house in the autumn of ’49.  It had no electricity, no running water or indoor plumbing.  The power company refused to run electricity from the main line, (about a mile away) until the following spring. There was a well below the back porch.  Water was lifted out of the well by a bucket on a rope using a windlass and pulley system.  The privy (also known as the outhouse, the shit house, etc.) was located about a hundred yards behind the house.  There was a fireplace on each end of the house and my grandmother’s wood burning cook stove to provide heat.

We lived that winter in conditions that would be considered primitive by today’s standards.  We used the fireplaces for heat and kerosene lamps and lanterns for light. The winter of ’49 was an extremely cold one.  At times I believed we would freeze to death.  That house was so cold that a glass of water would freeze over on the night stand.  The following spring, my dad and uncles learned that the main room of the house was made of logs and had been covered by oak boards.  During 1950, electricity, running water and an indoor toilet and bath were installed in the house and the attic was converted to three upstairs rooms.  A wood or coal burning stove was installed in the living room and the cook stove reigned in the kitchen.

There was another house on the farm.  It was a very small, one room log cabin.  It had a spring for water, an outhouse and a fireplace. John lived there.  John was an elderly Negro man.  When my dad bought the farm, one of the conditions of the purchase was that John would be permitted to live there as long as he lived or as long as he wished.

The farm had an allotment of ten to twelve acres for tobacco.  The allotment fluctuated yearly. There was a government agency that mandated the allowable acreage of tobacco that could be grown.  This was supposed to control the market price of tobacco.  My dad had no desire to farm tobacco and leased this acreage to “share croppers.”

John lived by working for my dad, the sharecropper, or other farmers in the area.  He had a one horse wagon and a mule that he used for transportation.  He had a garden and sold the produce in the colored section of Winston-Salem from his wagon.  He also sold catfish and carp that he caught in the creeks and the river. John was especially busy during hog killing time; he would help with the work for the intestines and feet.  He cleaned these and peddled them in town.

John was always available to help my dad with the chickens. There were eight houses of eight thousand chickens each.  My dad bought them as chicks; we fed them for eight or nine weeks and then shipped them to the meat packers.  John also helped my mother with the garden.  There were over thirty acres of woods on the place and the cutting and hauling of firewood was a yearly ritual. In 1951, dad and my uncles built a one room cement block building near John’s cabin and helped him move into it.  Over the years, John used the logs of the old cabin for firewood.

My dad was of the opinion that boys should have work to do to prevent them from getting into mischief.  I spent many days working alongside John with whatever job my dad had us doing.  John kept me working by reminding me, “Mister Buster (my childhood nickname) if’n you don’t git that done.  Yo Daddy gone take his belt to yo bottom.”  I also learned many things from John by watching him.  I learned how to forge a mule shoe.  I learned to make elderberry and dandelion wine.  I learned how to plow with a mule-drawn plow and how to drive a mule-drawn wagon.  My dad had about fifty bee hives and I learned beekeeping from John.

On Saturday evening, John would hitch his mule to his wagon, put on a white shirt and his best overalls and go to town. On Sundays, after my Mom and Dad were finished with the newspaper and after John had returned from church, I would take the paper to him and he would have me read the funnies to him.  He especially liked the Uncle Remus’ B’rer Rabbit strip.

I was thirteen when my father suddenly died.  John was a godsend to my mother during those trying times.  He took care of the work while she arranged to sell the chickens and rent the chicken houses to another farmer.  After she sold the bees to my uncle, about the only work left was to tend the garden, haul wood, and milk the cows.

By early ’58, John was moving slowly and could no longer do heavy work.  My mother asked me one morning if I would walk over and check on John, he hadn’t come to milk the cows.  I walked over, knocked on the door and when I got no answer, went in.  John was still in his bed; he had died in his sleep. I ran back to the house and told my mother.  She sent me over to the colored preacher’s house to tell him.  The congregation of his church collected John and prepared his funeral.

I wanted to attend John’s funeral but was told that it wasn’t fitting for white people to be going to a colored person’s funeral because colored people worshiped differently than whites. I guess the same applied to white peoples’ funerals.  I remember seeing John across the cemetery at my daddy’s funeral, but he was not part of the actual funeral party.

(I have substituted “Colored People” throughout this narrative for the word that was commonly used when referring to John’s race.)

I once asked John his age. He said, “Mister Buster, I don’t rightly know. I remembers we was owned by Mister Glenn and I was a little young’un and jist started workin’ with the hosses and mules.  I remembers Mister Glenn whoopen’ tha othas  ‘cause they was celebratin’ when Mister Lincoln wrote his paper sayin’ we was free.  I determined that at the time he died, John was between one hundred and one hundred two years old.

I grew up in an age and a society where the races were segregated and a family where bigotry was rife.  I learned early from a man who had once been the property of another man that we all have value.


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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.


The Way It Was

The Way It Was

By:  Garland Davis

Sailors split over switching to a single dress uniform

This is one from the heart. Not that you probably give a shit or have any reason to, but this is the opinion of an ex-Asia Sailor who paid his dues out on the Pacific Rim riding the old worn out haze gray steel of the Seventh Fleet during a couple of wars.

One was a “cold” war keeping the commie Russians at bay and the other was a “hot” war to keep the commie Vietnamese in the north. It is the ‘two cents worth’ of an old stewburner who was once afforded membership in, what he considers, the finest organization ever assembled…The United States Navy.

I learned respect for a heritage and a tradition established by generations before me all the way back to the British Royal Navy.  I came to realize that I am a part of that which is the history of the U.S. Navy.

When I enlisted in the Navy every incoming sailor was given two books. This is Your Navy, by Theodore Roscoe and a Blue Jackets Manual

The former was published by the U.S. Naval Institute to provide each incoming prospective bluejacket a single volume history of the Navy. It was written in the style of a yarn, a salty language adventure.  The latter was a rudimentary “how to” course in becoming a sailor.

These two books and mail from home were the only permitted reading while in boot camp. Being a prolific reader, I consumed and then re-read both books a number of times during the eleven weeks I was at RTC San Diego.  Somewhere along the way, both were lost.  I have a couple of Blue Jackets Manuals, but not the one I was issued.  I don’t even know if This is Your Navy is still in print.

The history of the Navy is a legacy that we inherited and is ours to pass, unsullied to future sailors. That is an obligation, a sacred duty to ourselves, our Navy, and our country.

The uniform, the one referred to as a “Crackerjack suit” by the uninformed and uninitiated is our badge.  That uniform in earlier forms is easily recognized by sailors today as the one worn by Civil War sailors…And every succeeding generation of North American Bluejacket since.

The U.S. Navy uniform is unique. First, no other service has maintained the continuity of their dress uniform. The thirteen-button low-neck jumper blues predate anything worn by our sister services. The Navy uniform is a symbol, recognized and respected by every sailor in the world.

The Navy Dress Blue Uniform lends itself to individual expression. Many sailors took eccentric liberties in the way they decorated and wore their beloved “Dress Canvas.” Many in authority turned a blind eye to the liberties taken in the wearing of the uniform.

The white hat was an integral part of the uniform.  I was early enough into the Navy to have been issued a flat hat and had the opportunity to wear it once during a port call at Vancouver in Canada.  The white hat presented the sailor with a number of ways to display his individuality.  It could be rolled.  It could be worn with “wings.” You chose the way you preferred and just did it because sailors had always done it.

The neckerchief was another way to show your individuality.  Some sailors meticulously took a dime and painstakingly rolled their neckerchiefs until they looked like a yard’s worth of garden hose.  Lazy fuckers, like myself, would take their neckerchief to some shop on the Honch or out in Wanchai and have it rolled into a “greasy snake.” Pressed flat, it looked great and was light enough to blow all over hell in a light wind. Some tied the knot in their neckerchief regulation style at the bottom of the ‘V’ of their jumper collar.  I always liked a high knot a couple of inches above the ‘V’.

The thirteen button blue melton bell bottom trousers had a small pocket for a pocket watch.  By the time, I enlisted in 1961 it had become a Zippo pocket.  You tucked your cigarettes in your sock and folded your wallet over the waistband of the trousers under your jumper.  Every bar girl, hooker, and pickpocket knew the exact location. A real set of thirteen-button blues had no belt loops. Instead, there were a series of eyelets right above the terminal point of your ass crack called ‘gussets’ and you had a shipmate lace them up and square knot them to your size. It was ‘Navy’… Old Navy… Back then, being ‘Old Navy’ was damned important.

The only thing that went into your jumper pocket was your liberty card and I.D. card.  Anything else and it looked like shit. If you wore whites, reaching in your pocket for stuff would get it dirty.  Hong Kong tailored blue jumpers were usually made with inside pockets for securing liberty funds.  Hong Kong was the place to have the cuffs of your blues decorated.  Called liberty cuffs, the inside if the cuffs were embroidered with colorful pictures so that when you rolled the cuffs back they were visible.  I had dragons on my cuffs.

So you decked yourself out in dress canvas. You rolled across your quarterdeck… Requested permission to leave the ship… Popped a snappy salute to the colors aft and you were off to terrorize the female population.  You were a member of the greatest Navy in history and you looked like an American bluejacket. Because that is what you were.

You were what every saltwater sailing son of a bitch longed to be.  In the early 1960’s we all knew in our hearts that it would always be this way.  It was the greatest uniform of all the services of all the countries. No one would ever be so fucking stupid as to let that uniform go. We knew that our sons and grandsons would someday wear that symbol or our Navy.

At the time it was called Indo-China, nobody knew where it was. No one gave a fuck, but it was to change our lives and our Navy.  Nobody had ever heard of Elmo Zumwalt. In 1970, President Nixon nominated him, over much more senior Admirals, to become Chief of Naval Operations.  He was the forward thinker who invented saltwater mediocrity and the political correctness bullshit.  He issued Z-grams that relaxed grooming standards; permitted civilian clothing aboard ship and became the harbinger of myriad uniform changes to come.

Somewhere along the way, somebody decided thirteen button blues were outdated and for decades since have changed the uniforms to the point that a sailor now resembles a Marine.  Seldom are dress uniforms seen.  Now it is Aquaflage instead of dungarees and civilian clothes ashore instead of sharp sailors with pride in their Navy, their ship, and themselves.

I don’t know what reading material is issued in boot camp these days, probably some bullshit about how to be politically correct, and not to make sexual advances to your male or female shipmates.

They trashed the dear and meaningful for a bunch of superficial, meaningless horseshit and called it progress… Shame on the bastards.

To follow Tales of an Asia Sailor and get e-mail notifications of new posts, click on the three white lines in the red rectangle above, then click on the follow button.

A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.


“Coffee, Nectar of the Gods…er…Chief Petty Officers”

“Coffee, Nectar of the Gods…er…Chief Petty Officers”

By:  Garland Davis

Coffee lover mug funny coffee mug coffee lovers mug coffee | Etsy

If asked, “How do you take your coffee?” I reply. “Seriously, very seriously.”

The coffee plant, discovered in Ethiopia in the 11th Century, has a white blossom that smells like jasmine and a red, cherry-like fruit. At that time, the leaves of the so-called “magical fruit” were boiled in water and the resulting concoction was thought to have medicinal properties. As the fame of the coffee plant spread to other lands, its centuries-long voyage was about to begin.

Istanbul was introduced to coffee in 1555 during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent by Özdemir Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of Yemen, who had grown to love the drink while stationed in that Country. In the Ottoman palace a new method of drinking coffee was discovered: the cherry seeds, later called beans, were roasted over a fire, finely ground and then slowly cooked with water on the ashes of a charcoal fire. With its new brewing method and aroma, coffee’s renown soon spread even further afield.

Over the next century coffee spread throughout the countries of Europe. England first became acquainted with coffee in 1637 when a Turk introduced the drink to Oxford. It quickly became popular among students and teachers who established the “Oxford Coffee Club.” The first commercial coffeehouse in Oxford opened in 1650 and was called the “Angel.”

In 1652, the first coffeehouse was opened in London. Using his extensive knowledge of how to prepare and brew Turkish Coffee, the Greek owner introduced his friends and clients to its peerless Taste.

By 1660, London’s coffeehouses had become an integral part of its social culture. The general public dubbed coffeehouses “Penny Universities” as they were patronized by writers, artists, poets, lawyers, politicians, and philosophers. London’s coffeehouses offered customers a great deal more than piping hot cups of coffee: the entrance fee of one penny allowed them to benefit from the intellectual conversation that surrounded them. It is believed that William Shakespeare conceptualized and wrote plays in the coffee houses of Strafford upon Avon.

Many coffeehouses of London placed a brass box bearing the words “To Insure Promptness” where patrons could leave a coin in payment for the services rendered by the coffee wenches.  That is where our current term “TIP” and the practice of “Tipping” originated.

Coffee reached North America in 1668. The first coffeehouse in New York, “The King’s Arms”, opened in 1696.

Coffeehouses of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, as in London, were frequented by students and intellectuals.

In 1714, the Dutch presented Louis XIV with a coffee sapling from their plantations on Java. The sapling was planted in the royal Jardin des Plantes in Paris.

In 1723, a French mariner took a sapling from the Jardin des Plantes to the island of Martinique. From here, the coffee plant spread to other Caribbean islands, as well as to Central and South America.

In 1727, a Portuguese sailor carried coffee saplings to Brazil from French Guyana. Today, Brazil is the number one producer of coffee in the world, accounting for 35% of global coffee production. By the mid-nineteenth century, coffee had become one of the most important commodities in world trade.

After the “Boston Tea Party” the drinking of tea by the colonists fell out of favor. Coffee grew in popularity throughout the colonies and later the fledgling states.  During the American Civil War, the blockade of Southern ports created an extreme shortage of coffee.  Numerous substitutes were attempted, primarily toasted corn, toasted barely and the ground root of the chicory plant.  Many in the deep south developed a taste for chicory and still mix chicory root with coffee.

Coffee was mostly drunk by the officers in the early American Navy.  The sailors preferred their beer and rum rations.  It slowly became more popular as a morning drink throughout the Navy.

The practice of coffee being made available twenty-four hours per day was established as a Naval tradition at the Battle of Manila Bay when Commodore George Dewey ordered the fleet to keep the galley fires lit to make coffee available throughout the battle.

Early versions of the Navy Cook Book required that the coffee be made only so strong as to see the bottom of the cup. This was to prevent the sailors from becoming overly stimulated.  It later became customary to make and drink coffee strong enough to “float a marlinspike.” Coffee became the favored beverage of sailors until the invention of Drink, Instant, Strawberry, Artificially Sweetened better known as red “Bug Juice.”  There were also Lemon (yellow Bug Juice), Lime (green bug juice), Orange (orange bug juice), and Grape (you guessed it, purple bug juice) flavors available.  It was not uncommon to hear a sailor answer, “Red,” to the question, “What flavor bug juice do they have today.” But bug juice is another story for telling at another time.

Coffee not only became the at-sea beverage of choice, the cans of coffee grounds raised the practice of barter (Cum Shaw to the Asia Sailor) to an art practiced by some of the canniest bluejackets afloat.  Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if some sailor didn’t have the SRF in Yokosuka build him an entire ship. I have a brass ash tray that was produced by the Foundry at said SRF.  My boss traded coffee for it and presented it to me after winning the 1982 and 1983 Ney Awards as Leading MS in Midway.

Being the Chief Cook and Baker, I was also the custodian of the ship’s supply of coffee grounds.  I could always tell when my shipmates were going to hit me up for a can.  They would be extra nice to me for a few days before. Of course, I always acted as if it would place a financial burden on the General Mess, but after listening to them tell me of all the glorious products they were going to get for a mere twenty pounds of coffee, I would relent and give in.  Of course, I always kept a stock of coffee already charged as used just for these instances.  In preparation for an extended availability while in Midway, I had over two thousand pounds of coffee charged off.  I would surmise this isn’t done in our new kinder and  gentler Navy.

During stores on loads and working parties made up by sailors from all divisions, it became a game for me to make sure all the coffee made it to the storeroom with my fellow Chiefs urging their troops on the working party to misplace a case of coffee (two twenty pound cans). Coffee wasn’t the only items popular for pilfering.  Aforesaid bug juice was popular, it would take the tarnish off brass and shine deck plates.  Wonder what it did to our stomachs. And snipes would take anything edible, even dehydrated mashed potatoes. But again, coffee is the story.

I remember when the Navy made Coffee, Powdered Instant available.  We tried it on one of the ships I was in. (The Food Service Officer claimed to prefer instant coffee.)  To placate him I ordered a case.  I took a jar into the CPO Mess.  Those of us who tried it figured you could make a better beverage with the detritus gathered at evening sweepers.  The jar sat by the coffee pot for a couple of days and then disappeared, I presume into the shitcan.  The Food Service Officer took a jar, paid for by the Wardroom Mess.  Two years later when I transferred, the were ten jars of the original twelve still on the books.

As for decaffeinated coffee, it is one of four items that I consider substitutes for the real thing.  The other three are non-alcoholic beer, skim milk, and masturbation.  Not even worth consideration.

Having retired some twenty-six years ago, I am not sure which direction coffee has taken in the Navy and aboard ship.  With the rise of the specialty coffee stores and shops offering Expressos and other foo-foo, exotic made up drinks, I would not be surprised to see an espresso coffee maker in the Wardrooms and General Messes and, I hate to say it, even the CPO Mess.  As for me, I’ll take my coffee hot, black, and strong enough to float that marlinspike.

To follow Tales of an Asia Sailor and get e-mail notifications of new posts, click on the three white lines in the red rectangle above, then click on the follow button.

A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.